Both New Orleans-area congressmen and Acadiana’s U.S. House representative picked up opponents on the first day of qualifying for the November elections.
House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-Jefferson, and Reps. Cedric Richmond, D-New Orleans, and Clay Higgins, R-Port Barre, drew three opponents each on the Nov. 6 ballot. A Democrat also filed to run against Rep. Garret Graves, R-Baton Rouge.
No opponents have qualified yet to run for the seats held by Republican incumbents Mike Johnson in northwest Louisiana and Ralph Abraham in northeast Louisiana.
Former state Sen. A.G. Crowe, R-Pearl River, and Democratic candidate Renée Fontenot Free, of Baton Rouge, were among the first candidates to arrive Wednesday morning at the Secretary of State’s Office in Baton Rouge for the official sign-up, which continues through Friday. Both are running to finish the final year in the term of Tom Schedler, who resigned as secretary of state in February on heels of allegations that he sexually harassed an employee.
Associate Supreme Court Justices Greg Guidry and Jeff Hughes, both incumbents, signed up for their respective races. Louisiana Public Service Commissioner Craig Greene, R-Baton Rouge, also officially qualified to run for a full six-year term on the five-member board that regulates utilities.
In addition, candidates qualified to fill out terms in the Louisiana House for Greg Cromer, who resigned once elected as mayor of Slidell, and for two other vacant state House seats in southwest and northwest Louisiana.
The November election will be followed, where necessary, by a Dec. 8 runoff.
Midterm congressional elections this fall will be the focus of intense coverage nationwide as Democrats have a chance to regain the majority in the U.S. House and, perhaps, the U.S. Senate.
But not in Louisiana.
With the possible exception of Higgins in Acadiana’s 3rd Congressional District, all of Louisiana’s congressional incumbents are expected to win easy re-election despite the number of opponents the races have drawn.
None of the opponents have raised significant amounts of money and they downplayed the impact of the incumbents’ war chests, which each hold more than $1 million.
President Donald Trump has tweeted his support for Higgins. Higgins faces three opponents as of Wednesday.
Rob Anderson, of DeQuincy, is making his first run for public office and is doing so as a Democrat. A former driller and freelance author, Anderson said he represents everyday working people rather than mouthing the tenets of a political party that is supported by corporations and special interests.
He said Higgins had crossed the line in a video talking about the need for a strong military to prevent a future Holocaust while standing in a gas chamber at the Auschwitz concentration camp. Anderson's only brush with the law was in 1987 when he was arrested and fined $400 for smoking a marijuana joint on a beach, he said.
Former U.S. Magistrate Judge Mimi Methvin, of Lafayette, filed as another Democratic challenger.
She says Higgins, who gained attention as a swashbuckling deputy on the Crime Stoppers segment of Lafayette news programs, has proven less Cajun John Wayne and more Cajun Barney Fife in Congress.
Higgins was elected claiming to be an everyday guy willing to talk tough to power, she said. But the incumbent’s votes have toed the party line, even when those issues, such as health care, are in the interest of his constituents.
Lafayette lawyer and Iraq War veteran Josh Guillory is a Republican backed by former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani. He came in during the afternoon to qualify in the 3rd District race. He zeroed in on Higgins living in Port Barre, which is outside the 3rd District. “First and foremost, I live in the district,” he said.
Libertarian Howard Kearney signed up to challenge incumbent Scalise, who since 2008 has represented the 1st Congressional District that primarily covers suburban New Orleans. Kearny works with computer software. He said if elected, he would push to end the investigation into alleged Russian interference in U.S. elections. “It’s a huge waste of time,” he said, adding that focus would be better spent on addressing issues important to voters.
Democrat Jim Francis, of Covington, challenged Scalise to cooperate with the federal investigation by answering questions about his relationship with Russian nationals recently indicted for trying to influence U.S. elections and policy.
Scalise is the third most powerful member of Congress from a district that overwhelmingly elects Republicans. Francis says the incumbent has long displaced the needs of the 1st District with the political wants of the GOP, the National Rifle Association and the American Conservative Union.
Tammy Savoie, an Air Force veteran and clinical psychologist from Jefferson Parish, is running as a Democrat because Scalise supported GOP positions in votes against the minimum wage, health care and legislation to protect women from violence. “He has demonstrated calloused indifference to the working people of Louisiana,” Savoie said.
Richmond’s 2nd Congressional District ties together predominantly black precincts from New Orleans East up the Mississippi River to north Baton Rouge. He heads the Black Caucus on Capitol Hill. He is seeking his fifth term and fielded two candidates without party affiliation — Shawndra Rodriguez, of Baton Rouge, and Jesse Schmidt, of Gretna — and one independent candidate, Belden “Noonie Man” Batiste, of New Orleans.
Thirty-year-old Justin DeWitt, a Baton Rouge land surveyor making his first bid for public office, signed up to challenge two-term Republican Congressman Graves, of the Baton Rouge-based 6th District.
Running as a Democrat, DeWitt said he was from a working-class background, rather than a rich family, and wouldn’t be beholden on contributions from large corporations. He said he is the first openly gay candidate for Congress from Louisiana.
Most of the races this fall will be regional. But at the top of every ballot in Louisiana will be secretary of state.
Third in the line of gubernatorial succession, the secretary of state administers Louisiana’s elections, handles business incorporation documents and archives state government’s papers.
Four candidates have announced their intention to run for the seat, but only two had qualified by the end of Wednesday.
Democrat Free left the state attorney general’s Public Protection Division to seek this office. As a former first assistant secretary of state under Fox McKeithen and Al Ater, Free had helped merge the election function with the Secretary of State’s Office and was involved in organizing elections after hurricanes Katrina and Rita dispersed storm victims around the country.
She argued that the biggest issue confronting the secretary of state is voter apathy that is the result of intense partisanship eroding public confidence in politics. Only about 13 percent of the state’s 3 million registered voters participated in last fall’s election to choose the state treasurer. More voters are expected to cast a ballot in this fall’s election, but the turnout is still expected to be low.
Republican Crowe said one idea he had to drum up interest was to sponsor a competitive essay program asking high schoolers to explain why voting is important. He’d like to see scholarships awarded to students across the state who participated.
Crowe founded a private records management company, which has 23 franchises in 12 states. Because records management is a large part of the job, he said he is uniquely qualified. He was a Louisiana House representative from 2000 to 2008, then was elected to the state Senate, representing parts of St. Tammany, St. Bernard, Plaquemines and Orleans parishes. He was re-elected in 2011 and opted not to run for a third term in 2015.
Republican Rep. Julie Stokes, a Kenner certified public accountant, is expected to qualify on Thursday. Republican Rep. Rick Edmonds, a Baton Rouge minister and former executive with the Louisiana Family Forum, said he would qualify Friday.
The post became open when Schedler was sued for sexually harassing an employee, allegations he denied before resigning.
Kyle Ardoin is serving as secretary of state until the election determines who will fill out the remaining year of Schedler’s term. The winner of this fall's election would have to run again in 2019 for a full four-year term.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.